Love Affairs

Classical music always has been the domain of real-life lovers. Between the seventeenth century composer, Gesualdo, who murdered his wife, and the twentieth century story of the escape from Soviet Russia of cellist Slava Rostropovich and opera singer, Galina Vishnevskaya, there are many other tales of love. Some feature a composer or performer or both, as is the case with the Schumanns. Some couples lived happily ever after while heartbreak and sorrow was the lot of others. We shall explore the course of true love, as we listen to the music that is interwoven within it.


  • Introduction to the course. The story of Gesualdo and the murder of his wife. His music. The Bachs. Johann’s wives. Anna Magdalena, the copyist. Selected works.
  • Costanze and Wolfgang Mozart. How they met and her life after his death. Selected works, including operatic excerpts.
  • Robert Schumann, the composer, and his wife, Clara Wieck, the pianist. The story of her faithfulness and support for Robert. Works composed by both.
  • Richard and Cosima Wagner. The Bayreuth Festival. Selected works.
  • Gustav and Alma Mahler. A rocky relationship. Selected works of both.
  • Daniel Barenboim and Jacqueline De Pré, the pianist and the cellist. Hopes destroyed by illness. Performances by both.
  • Mstislav Rostropovich and Galina Vishnevskaya, the cellist and the singer. The escape and exile. Performances by both.
  • Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge, opera star and conductor. Performances by both.


By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Appreciate the music that Schumann composed in the early days of his marriage.
  2. Recall the story of Gesualdo and two of his compositions.
  3. Be familiar with the roles that the wives of Bach and Wagner played in preserving their husbands' music.
  4. Compare one happy and one unhappy love affair.